“Go Titans Go!” “You guys are going down!” “Hey look, they even have jerseys!”
Recently, a group of Surrey Mounties visited a local elementary school gymnasium in Cloverdale. There is fun and exuberance in the air and a lot of very excited kids. It’s all part of the festivities as the officers shed their duty belts and forage caps for runners and jerseys. Today, the game is basketball, but next time it could be floor hockey, handball, or even Swedish scooter ball.
Since 2002, officers from the Surrey RCMP have attended elementary schools across Surrey, once a week during their lunch hour, to play sports with students. The program helps to break down barriers and develop relationships with the future leaders of tomorrow while giving kids some physical exercise in the process.
“The initial idea came from my father, a former Mountie, who used to visit my elementary school while he was on shift and just shoot some hoops with the grade seven class,” says Surrey RCMP Corporal Mike Spencer, who organizes the school visits. “The idea was to create some lasting memories and build positive connections with kids before they entered high school. Once I became a police officer, I did something similar at a local elementary school and the idea just stuck.”
Fast forward a few years and the “Team RCMP” School Sports Program was born. The program still takes on the grade seven class in whatever sport or activity they choose, and also includes sportsmanship awards, trading cards, and almost every elementary school in the district.
Cpl. Spencer credits the core group of officers who come out every week and the teachers, principals, and students who keep the program going with their spirit and enthusiasm.
“The kids absolutely love it,” says Ruby Stovern, Kirkbride Elementary School teacher and one of the co-creators of the program. “The gym is packed full of kids and there’s signs made and flags waving. It gets the whole school involved. The kids can’t wait to be a part of it and cheer on the players. Best of all, it helps kids see police officers in a positive light and helps builds trust in police at a young age.”
As if to highlight this fact, Stovern’s current Educational Assistant at Kirkbride remembers playing against the RCMP team almost 10 years ago.
“While events like our recent Basketball Classic provide great opportunities to engage with high school students, developing a rapport with kids at an even earlier age is key in preventing them from being lured by negative lifestyle choices down the road,” says Surrey RCMP Superintendent Shawn Gill, Community Services Officer. “These kinds of programs are very inclusive and give young people some positive role models to look up to.”
While Cpl. Spencer is proud of the many connections his group has made with kids over the years, it has led to some unexpected situations.
“I have had many kids come up to me years later remembering me or the game we played at their school,” he says with a smile. “One day, however, I had a situation where I was undercover following a suspect on foot near a park when a young person, who recognized me from a game, went out of his way to say hello as I was walking by,” he chuckles. “It really didn’t end up interfering with the situation, but needless to say I had some careful explaining to do.”
The School Sports Program is one of many preventative and educational youth programs that the Surrey RCMP is engaged in. Others include the Surrey Wrap Program, Code Blue & Mini-Code Blue Program, and the Youth Police Academy.